Exploring Irish Equestrian Heritage

Ireland is renowned for its lush green landscapes and warm hospitality, and beckons equestrian enthusiasts to delve into its rich cultural tapestry. Ireland’s popular equestrian sports are Showjumping, hunting, eventing, and racing.

Irish Horses Native to Ireland

Ireland is famous for the Thoroughbred and the Irish Draught and sport horse.  The Irish Draught and sport horse, a cross of the thoroughbred and Irish draught and are important as a competition horse.

Ireland takes pride in its iconic Irish Draught, known for its robust build and versatility in various equestrian disciplines, from traditional cross-country riding to modern show jumping. The Connemara Pony, another native breed, roams the scenic Connemara region, adding to Ireland’s equestrian charm. These ponies, known for their strength, intelligence, and elegance, are showcased at the annual Connemara Pony Show in Clifden every August.

Kerry Bog Ponies range upwards to 12 hands in height, In the past, the ponies were captured from their feral herds to help transport peat and kelp into local villages and have a characteristic walk that enables them to travel on the soft ground. They also have a thick winter coat and can survive eating heather, moss, and possibly even seaweed!  Known for its sure-footedness, strength, and intelligence. Now a rare breed but suited as an ideal family pony, full of character and fun.

Horse Racing and Unusual Horse Races

Thoroughbred racing is deeply ingrained in Ireland’s traditions, with 24 racecourses in the south and two in the north of Ireland. The highlight on the racing calendar is the Irish Derby at the Curragh, a Group flat horse race that mirrors the renowned Epsom Derby held in late June or early July.

At Laytown locals like to Gamble in their bikini or swimming trunks, about 30 miles north of Dublin on the North Sea coast. Every September the shoreline transforms into a racetrack complete with running rails, a winning post, and furlong markers. Despite the unconventional beach venue, the races follow official rules with professional jockeys and Thoroughbreds accustomed to traditional tracks. Hosted since 1868, draws thousands of visitors to the sleepy fishing village, turning it into a vibrant hub with bookmakers, marquees, and food concessions.

The Omey Races is another great day out for spectators and is held annually at Omey Strand, Claddaghduff in Connemara, Ireland. The annual summer races have been steadily attracting greater numbers every year for a wonderful day of sand, sea, possibly sun and of course, horse racing.

Irish Horse studs open to the public

The Irish National Stud in Tully, Kildare, stands as a testament to the country’s passion for racing. Nestled 45 minutes from Dublin City, this stud boasts a Horse Museum that chronicles the history of Irish racing, featuring artifacts, interactive displays, and even the skeleton of the legendary Arkle. A tour of the stud and the picturesque Japanese gardens, along with a coffee shop break, makes for a delightful equestrian outing.

Coolmore Stud welcomes racing and breeding fans and visits take place Fridays from October to April and Tuesdays from May to September. The tour will be approx. 3-4 hours in length. Tours are offered in conjunction with a visit to Fethard Horse Country Experience, the new interactive visitors’ centre in the nearby town of Fethard. Visitors must register in advance with Fethard Horse Country Experience

Major Equestrian Events in Ireland

Ireland’s vibrant equestrian calendar draws riders and spectators alike. The Dublin Horse Show, held every August, stands as an institution celebrating all facets of Ireland. It brings the nation together, connecting deeply with Ireland’s equestrian roots.

Eventing is also very popular in Ireland with the Nations Cup eventing at Mill Street and other eventing competitions held at Kilguilkey House International Horse Trials, and Ballindenisk Horse Trials, captivating audiences from spring to autumn.

Irish rider Austin O’Connor won the Maryland 5-star event in October 2023 and was third at the Badminton Horse Trials in the same year on his grey horse Colorado Blue.

Fox Hunting with hounds is still an Irish tradition, dating back to ancient times. Despite being banned in the UK, fox hunting in Ireland has unprecedented popularity, with approximately 300,000 participants ranging from 8 to 80 years old, representing diverse walks of life. It’s not uncommon to witness three generations of a family engaging in the tradition together.

Local Horse fairs

The Ballinasloe Horse Fair in County Galway, Europe’s oldest and largest horse fair, adds a touch of tradition with its lively atmosphere and unusual attractions. The main reason for the fair is the buying and selling of horses. Shopping for souvenirs, clothing, food, and trinkets at stalls, live music, and other performances. On Sunday and Monday, the Fair Green is the place to be, with every breed of horse and pony on display from the beautiful Connemara Pony to trotting ponies and wonderful Irish draughts.

The Tallow Horse fair has been held in Waterford on the 3rd of September for the last 100 years.  There are no posters, no advertising, no signs, and no event organisers – Tallow Horse Fair simply happens year after year and how you know is the rattle of trailers and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves.

The local horse fairs celebrate traditional Irish horsemanship and are a great opportunity to witness the country’s equestrian prowess.

Unique Horse-Drawn Vehicles and Caravan Holidays

Embark on a journey through Ireland’s traditions with a Jaunting Car Tour, offering a nostalgic horse and carriage experience to explore Killarney’s National Park.

Another unique way to holiday is to consider a horse-drawn covered wagon, allowing you to traverse Ireland’s beautiful landscapes at your own pace, stopping at farms, country houses, or pubs along the way. This immersive experience combines culture, landscape, and leisure, promising a holiday where you and your horse set the pace.

Riding Holidays in the Emerald Isle

Ireland’s riding holidays cater to those seeking a perfect blend of equestrian adventure and cultural exploration. Whether staying at a Castle estate, riding along ancient stone-walled roads, or cantering on picturesque beaches, the options are as diverse as the landscapes. Local equestrian centres provide guided trail rides and specialised lessons, ensuring a memorable experience for riders of all skill levels and Snaffle Travel has some handpicked places to stay.

Written by Tania Huppatz  www.snaffletravel.com.au